Ever feel like you just can’t let go of something, or that your response to a simple stressor feels out of proportion? Chances are you’re harboring undigested emotions that keep triggering the same response to fear, anger, and more. Here, your ultimate guide for cleansing and resetting your system so you can approach each new situation (and relationship) fresh.
What is an Emotional Detox?
Almost everyone has felt the impact of emotional stress. We commonly feel it in our guts—kids get tummy aches, while adults get butterflies, nervous stomachs, constipation, diarrhea, heart burn, and irritable and inflammatory bowel conditions.
Emotional stress happens when normal, healthy feelings of sadness, grief, worry, anger, and more become overwhelming, affecting your health, relationships, and self-esteem.1
Sometimes if may feel as if your responses to stressful events come out of nowhere or are on autopilot. Studies suggest that 95% of the things we do and say, particularly when we are stressed, come from early childhood impressions. Our responses can become habitual, creating patterns of emotional behavior. These emotional responses can get stored as molecules of emotions in fat and muscle cells. Then, when you’re exposed to a familiar stress, the emotions get released, creating another way our responses can be on autopilot, and overwhelming.
Because these molecules of emotion are an important part of our safety and survival mechanism, they often become the way we interface with the world. It’s common to constantly react to situations in an emotionally triggered way that we don’t seem to have any control over. We often find ourselves way down that familiar emotional road, such as having an outburst, after the damage has already been done.
This is why we need the occasional emotional detox—to clear out stored emotions and start with a clean slate, which allows us to think and respond more clearly, in the moment, and from the heart, rather than the mind or body
But first, let’s cover what makes us emotionally sick.
The Biology of Emotional Stress
Have you ever had someone emotionally dump on you? Have you ever emotionally dumped on someone else? Often they feel the same–yucky. The interesting thing about being wrong or being right in a conflict is that neither feels that great. No one feels good being yelled at, and after yelling at someone, you usually regret it.
And either way it’s stressful. Stress not only prompts old childhood patterns and stored emotions, it triggers your primal fight or flight response. Once designed for life-or-death situations, this sympathetic nervous system reaction can now kick in when you’re in conflict with a partner, are overwhelmed by work, or can’t deal with traffic.
In these situations, the body sends messages to the brain’s amygdala, or processing center. If the amygdala determines that there’s a threat, it tells the hypothalamus, which in turn tells the adrenals to call stress hormones, like adrenalin, into action. Your heart beats faster. Your breathing becomes quicker and blood sugar and fats are releases into your blood stream for fast energy.2
Stress and Neurotransmitters
There are other impacts of stress that directly affect your gut. Fight or flight responses can slow down or disrupt digestion so energy is spent instead on threat defenses, causing stomach pain and gastrointestinal disorders.3
The digestive system is governed by its very own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system. Coincidentally, this is another part of your nervous system also responsible for managing stress. The enteric nervous system is often called the “second brain” because it produces and uses the same neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, as the brain. Studies show that 95% of serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter linked to mood and processing emotional stress, is actually produced and stored in the gut.
Under severe emotional stress (like in the case of yelling or being yelled at), neurotransmitters such as serotonin are made in huge quantities to help you deal with the event. But serotonin transporters can’t keep up with the serotonin surge and excess serotonin gets trapped in your gut, unable to help you manage stress. While the right about of serotonin can help stabilize mood, researchers believe that excess serotonin in the gut irritates mucus membranes, causing inflammatory bowel conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).4
Emotional Stress and Ayurveda
This science I discuss above was something ancient Ayurvedic practitioners understood. Nearly 3,000-year-old Ayurvedic texts suggest that the nervous system, along with stress and other emotions, originates in the gut. Emotions are carried from the gut through mental channels to the heart and the brain, prompting emotional responses such as heart-based love and compassion or mind-based fear and anger. Whether you react with love and compassion or anger and fear depends on many factors, including your experiences and trauma, particularly from childhood and your nutritional and digestive health.
In Ayurveda, the cause of all disease is when the mind and emotions overshadow the experience of the heart, or soul (read oneness with all around you). In others words, we begin to react to life through the filter of fear and anger rather than love and compassion.
The whole purpose of Ayurveda is to help balance the body and detoxify it so it can regain the clarity necessary to choose love and compassion over than anger and fear.
Well, while the task at hand may sound complicated, Ayurveda does have a simple way to release stored emotional stress and cleanse the body and mind of old behavioral patterns.
How to Release Old Emotional Patterns
Unravelling these old destructive patterns of behavior is actually quite easy with an Ayurvedic detox. Ayurveda never just detoxifies the body—treatments always include a digestive reset, a healing of the intestinal lining, a scrub of the liver and lymph, a fat soluble toxic substance detox, and a release and transformation of old unwanted patterns of emotional behavior.
There are three logical steps to take to change emotional stress:
- Heal your gut so that it can respond to stress in a strong and healthy way and be a better transporter of neurotransmitters.
- Convince your body and mind that it is safe enough to release old toxic molecules of emotion from fat cells. Ayurvedic cleanses use ghee to force the body to enter into fat metabolism. Fat is the body’s calm fuel, versus sugar, which is the body’s stimulating fuel. The first step to burning the calm fuel and releasing stored molecules of emotion is to burn fat. In the process of releasing fat soluble molecules of emotions, toxic fat soluble chemicals will be released as well. Yup, we store environmental toxics like pesticides and preservatives in our fat cells. Remember, they were stored there because the body lost its ability to break them down and detoxify them through normal and appropriate detox channels.
We RecommendAyurvedic Intermittent Fasting
- Take action to transform toxic molecules of emotion once they are released from storage. The key to transforming old emotions is to take action based on your truth rather than what your mind has convinced you is true. Your mind is quite attached to the status quo, so to access the truth, we have to become more self-aware. From there we can take meaningful action.
Be careful when you detox. Make sure the detox you choose resets digestive and detox pathways, or you may find that you only moved the fat soluble toxic substances from one fat cell to another.
Prime Yourself for an Emotional Detox With This Ayurvedic Self-Inquiry Practice
One the main components of Ayurvedic psychology is called critical analysis, or self –inquiry, during a cleanse, when the body shifts into a fat-burning state and molecules of emotion, also called mental ama, are released. A self-inquiry practice at this time gives us access to these emotions and the ability to witness them from a non-emotional, objective place. It’s from here, with this kind of self-awareness of unwanted habits, that we can make transformational changes.
- Ask yourself: What would I change about my partner? Make a list.
(This doesn’t have to be a significant other – you can focus on a family member, friend or colleague).
- Pick one item off the list and the next time this person does the thing that bugs you, refrain from reacting immediately.
- Let yourself cool down for 10-15 minutes before you say anything. While chilling, think of three things you love or appreciate about this person.
- Now take action based on the truth: Express your love (inspired by the three things you just identified) with words of affection or an act of kindness.
- Sit for a minute or two and evaluate how you feel after expressing love, kindness, or affection.
Are you still irritated?
Do you feel any joy or happiness?
Do you feel loved even though your partner hasn’t changed their behavior?
If you feel better after this exercise, then you are on the road to enjoying better relationships. We often say to ourselves, I would love them so much more if they would change that behavior. In this exercise they didn’t change at all yet you were filled up. You felt better and more loved by them without them changing anything.
Podcast Episode on Emotional Detox
Listen to LifeSpa Founder John Douillard discuss the emotional benefits of detoxing and resetting your digestive and metabolic systems. Listen now.
Sign Up for LifeSpa’s Free Natural Detox Training
The truth is that we always have a choice. We can choose to wait until those around us change or we can choose to practice compassion and self-love and take responsibility for our own emotional responses and health.
Learn how to reset your digestion, release molecules of toxic emotions, and boost fat metabolism in my free Natural Detox training.